Case study

Policy and research manager — Gabi Binnie

As a social researcher for AGCAS, Gabi can be working on several projects at any one time. Find out more about how her research feeds into the policy aspect of her role

What degree did you study?

I studied for a BSc Biomedical Science at The University of Sheffield and graduated in 2015. I'm currently finishing a part-time MSc Occupational Psychology at Coventry University.

How did you get your job?

After university, I did a three-month graduate internship with a small business that specialised in providing consultancy services, mainly around graduate careers and employability, to universities and businesses. I enjoyed the job but spent a lot of time doing things like interviews and training, and wanted to use the research skills that I had developed in my science degree. I had never considered being a social researcher until I saw my current role advertised but it brings together my knowledge of UK higher education and my research skills.

What's a typical working day like?

AGCAS is the professional membership organisation for university careers services. I complete research projects that help university careers services to provide better support to their students.

I often have three or four projects on the go at the same time. Some of these will be short (a couple of weeks) and others will be over the course of months/years. Typically I will be given a project brief and work with a steering group (a group of experts) to decide how to run the project. A lot of my day involves designing surveys, sourcing participants, holding interviews, analysing data and writing up my findings.

After a research project is complete, I move onto the 'policy' part of my role. This means taking the findings from the research and trying to use them to influence change. This can be at a national government level or a local or organisational level.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I like that some days are spent at events, others are spent analysing data or writing reports. It also gives me an opportunity to be creative, which you wouldn't typically expect from a research job.

What are the challenges?

I'm often asked to undertake projects in areas that I’m not an expert in. This means I have to learn everything I can about the topic very quickly, which can be daunting and requires a lot of reading.

As with any project, unexpected things can happen which means that the project or deadlines have to be changed. You have to be resilient and flexible.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree taught me how to plan a research project from start to finish - outlining my hypotheses and predictions, developing a methodology and writing up a report. It also helped me become confident working with quantitative data and taught me how to teach myself new techniques to analyse data.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

At the start of my role, I spent the majority of time doing research. Now that I've completed some research projects, the focus of my role has become more about using the research findings to influence policy, so I'm doing a lot more events, meetings and writing articles.

One of my career aspirations is to get a piece of research published, ideally in an academic journal.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

Think about how you plan to study. I did my MSc part time alongside a full-time job so needed a course that was set up to deliver this. All my lectures are on the same day and a lot of the content is online, which works really well for me.

Also challenge yourself with your Masters and don't be afraid to opt for something that is different from what you studied at undergraduate level.

What advice would you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • Find a sector or area that you find interesting and start from there.
  • Look at smaller organisations like SMEs and charities. You will often get a role with more autonomy and get greater levels of responsibility more quickly.
  • Don't be put off applying for a social researcher job if your degree isn't directly relevant. I have a science degree but graduates with a politics or psychology degree are likely to have the skills to do the job.

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